May & June were crazy for me (here’s why), so I’m combining the posts! I read about the amount that I normally read in one month over these two months anyway. Part of the slow-reading is work, part of it is staying up late doing summer stuff, and some of it is because I’m reading more carefully. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m re-reading 34 or so of my favorite books. I’ve challenged myself to write personal essays on each of them, though I’m not sharing those essays here. I’m trying to figure out why I love the books in the first place, and I’m exploring a perspective or literary criticism theory I hadn’t yet applied in a previous reading to each one. Because obviously, I miss school.
Here’s what I read in May:
The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I re-read Gatsby, a great American classic about money and morality in the 1920s, before going to see the recent movie adaptation, and I’ve had a bunch of requests to share my insights on the movie as a lover of the book. I thought I’d sort of combine the two here.
I read through this time with the premise that Nick, the narrator of the book, is the real protagonist (not Gatsby!), because he is the only person who experiences a change in the book. I caught on that Nick is gay (or at the very least bisexual) in my first reading in high school (see the passage photographed above), and this time I paid attention with the premise that Nick is in love with Gatsby. It’s hard to say more about this premise without giving away spoilers, but the evidence is overwhelming. This realization also made me look deeper into Nick as an unreliable narrator, which he undoubtably is, and his hero worship of Gatsby in the face of Gatsby’s despicable actions.
You may guess my beef with the movie: Nick is portrayed as undoubtably heterosexual. His first notice of the draw of Gatsby’s parties is a sexy dancing girl, the scene depicting Nick post-coitus with Mr. McKee is cut, and Nick is shown as a wallflower. Not opening up the possibility of Nick’s ambiguous sexuality changes the entire meaning of the story. It’s 2013. If Fitzgerald could make it obvious, then directer Luhrmann could have at least subtly hinted.
I didn’t love the flashforwards of Nick in the movie either (there were way more creative ways to have an excuse to use voiceovers), but I enjoyed the film overall. The use of music was interesting, it was vivid, and the imagery was spot on.
My favorite thing about the movie, however, was the way the character of Daisy was handled. Despite her few moments depth in the novel (“I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”), I’ve always seen her as a fool herself. Her dialogue makes her seem ditzy. But her expressions and tone in the movie showed that everything she said was her playing the part expected of a wealthy woman at that time: subordinate, breezy, and without opinions. Many of the actions that make Daisy seem despicable in the novel can really be seen as attempted escape from a wold she’s trapped in. (The climax of the novel not included–that’s horrible no matter how you look at it.) After the movie I did a skim through and added a bit about Daisy’s character from a feminist theory perspective to the essay I wrote, and it helped me add a new level of understanding to the work. So hurrah for that. (Did you see it? What did you think of the movie?)
Let the Right One In (2008) by John Ajvide Lindqvist
This is perhaps my favorite horror novel. Set in Sweden in the 1980s, the book follows the life of a bullied young boy dreaming of fighting back and his first experience with adolescent love. It’s a vampire novel, and it is by far the best modern take on vampires I’ve ever encountered. I love that the book isn’t only about horror: it explores real-world issues such as bullying, pedophilia, transgenderism, and murder. Many aspects of this book are deeply disturbing, so keep that in mind as you decide if you think it may be for you.
This read through I focused on the theme of vampires as a metaphor. I thought about what issues the author was able to tackle well as a result of the inclusion of supernatural elements that would have otherwise been difficult to explore in a novel.
Everyday Storyteller 2 (2013) Ed. Jennifer Wilson
It may seem strange to switch from all that seriousness to a book about scrapbooking, but I was so excited about this book that I dived in as soon as it hit my front doorstep. I love all of the articles from amazing memory keepers, I love looking up the folks I hadn’t heard of yet (it’s like a Who’s Who of scrapbooking up in there), and I love that I took away a few ideas I could implement immediately after my first reading. It’s good stuff. You can watch a video preview of the book if you think you’d like it too.
In case you were wondering, my favorite article was Kelly Purkey’s. I am super jealous of her food life, and loved reading about her take on documenting her fancy dinners. I also really loved Wendy Smedly’s take on documenting childhood!
Here’s what I read in June:
East of Eden (1952) by John Steinbeck
East of Eden is a classic exploring the interwoven lives of families from the Civil War to the First World War. Major themes include history repeating itself, the question of inherited versus chosen good and evil, and the impact parents have in shaping the lives of their children.
I cannot overstate how much I love this book. I’m re-reading my top 34, but this one is in my top five. I first read this novel in high school after seeing the film (I was and am obsessed with James Dean). I had read Of Mice and Men, so I was expecting greatness already. But my expectations were far exceeded, and I was excited to find an entire generation of story in the novel not included in the film.
I’m not going to go into why deeply because it’s personal, but this book shifted my worldview. And I’m not sure I’d be the same person today if I hadn’t read it. Instead of thinking about a literary theory when I reread this, I instead reflected on the effect it has had on me and how, as a writer, changing the way your readers see the world is one of the greatest things you can achieve.
Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) by James Baldwin
Go Tell it on the Mountain is set in Harlem in the 1930s and is a semi-autobiographical account of the role of the Pentecostal church on black families at the time. The book explores young John’s relationship with his father, his family history, hypocrisy, his religious transformation, and, more subtly, racism and his struggles with his sexuality.
I read this for the first time in my high school English class, and it stuck with me vividly. For this re-read, I paid close attention to the unconventional timeline and Baldwin’s use of poetic prose.
In case you were wondering why my copy is covered in Yo Gabba Gabba characters: Eliza sticker bombed it a few years ago.
You can see all of my other reads posts here.
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Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are you reading lately?